Thirty years on from the Blackburn riots that engulfed areas of Brookhouse and Whalley Range we speak to some of the people who were there. 

The summer of 1992 saw several incidents of major violence across towns and cities in the UK. On July 16 there were three nights of rioting on the Hartcliffe estate, Bristol. It began after two men were killed when the stolen police motorbike they were riding was hit by a police car. 

A week later there were five nights of much intense violence on the Stoops and Hargher Clough estates in Burnley. Over 90 people were arrested following clashes between police and youths over a four-day period.

This despair and resentment soon spread to Huddersfield on the Brackenhall estate after police conducted a 'drugs raid' on a pub.

In Blackburn, the spark for the disorder around the same time came from something else. Here, violence erupted between groups of Pakistani and Indian communities – both Muslim.

It is a period that some people would rather forget.

On the whole relations had been mostly good but there still remained this underlying resentment.

In particular, relationships between couples of Pakistani and Indian descent were quite rare. That is not to say it did not happen. Nowadays the idea of attending a ‘mixed wedding’ as it was described back then, would be normal in most people’s eyes.

There was also a feeling, unfounded, amongst some that Pakistanis were not ‘as religious’ as those of Indian descent.

This resentment at the time had been allowed to fester for many years and had been amplified by some people in the community who had tried to breed further ignorance into young minds. At the time this ‘prejudice’ between Pakistanis and Indians was something of a talking point.

But how did this lead to violence that engulfed a whole neighbourhood where those of Pakistani and Indian descent had both settled? 

As is understandable some of those who spoke to us did not wish to be named. Most are also retelling their stories for the first time.

Disorder began at what was once the Balaclava pub which had been turned into a pool room and eatery - Khan's Cafe. Here, young men would meet up to spend some time passing time playing pool but it soon got a reputation for something else.

Thirty years ago, for a small close-knit community such as Blackburn it was something that would in this case would lead to violence.

How did it start?

There was a belief at the time that a relationship between two people from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds may have been the focal point of the initial disagreement which later spread.

A 52-year-old recollected the spark that ignite the flames.

“It began with the way some men were meeting young women. In particular how women were visiting the takeaway and pool hall. 

“Also, people felt there was all sorts going on here and rumour soon spread. The fact that young women would frequent the place and this was happening right in front of everyone was the last straw.

“This was allowed to fester for a while.

“One day someone went into to ‘speak’ to people there and was supposed to have been beaten up for his efforts.

“You have to understand women were not being forced to go in there but they were going of their own accord. But we couldn’t have this right in the heart of the Asian area which was still very conservative in their outlook.

“Any ‘pad’ that allowed women to visit and mix with men was seen as something of a illicit place.

“From that point on things just ‘kicked off’. I think the Indians I knew has just had enough. I think many Pakistanis did too and didn’t want to be associated with the place."

Violence erupted after 7.30pm on Wednesday 22 July as the takeaway had its windows smashed and was set on fire.

After police arrived, they tried to separate the rival groups and when from 11pm this failed, running street battles ensued with the Lancashire Telegraph reporting ‘200 people involved on either side’.

Footballers watched from the St John's artifical pitch opposite as scuffles broke out with one telling us: "We didn't think much of it at the time and wanted to get on with the footy. The police had to come later and kick us off!"

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One man was at the building and recollects ‘groups of Indians walking down towards the premises armed to the teeth’.

He said: “I remember people having cricket bats and sticks. They made their way into the building and then started smashing things up. They were after the owner more than anything else.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting this to happen. There were a few of us who just happened to be outside  the building at the time. We didn’t know what the hell was going on but once you are there you stand and fight.

“As the place got smashed up police arrived and decided to separate the group.”

The building was set alight and this would be the focus of the following violent scenes played out over the next 48 hours as things quickly got out of control fuelled again by rumours and here say.

Police in the firing line and 'crates of petrol bombs'

Police relations officer Tom Maudsley was one of the first officers on the scene on the first night and had bravely attempted to diffuse the situation but was attacked by people throwing bricks and spent the night in hospital. He was one of 11 officers who were attacked on the first night.

Officers found themselves trying to separate 'warring' factions as things quickly got out of control.

Word got round that the Pakistanis were being targeted. This, inflamed the mistrust and further fights broke out. The police then put up a barricade near Randal Street between the groups.

Later skirmishes took place with the police now in the firing line as people from outside descended into the town.

Further properties were targeted but soon enough the violence was predominantly between gangs made of youths taking part in tit-for-tat acts of aggression. 

Estimates by police said 3,000 people were involved in the disturbances that took up large sections of Brookhouse. A total of 39 arrests were made for public order offences.

Over the second night the Lancashire Telegraph report at the time says: “Tensions arose as repeated attempts to force people off the streets and back into their homes failed and more officers were drafted in with the entire Whalley Range area being cordoned off.”

Reports added, ‘More than 50 petrol bombs were recovered from cars and houses’ and ‘crates of petrol bombs were removed from other surrounding streets’.

The area around Charlotte Street and where the present Shandaar takeaway was cordoned off with police for several days.

One witness said: “They were shipping people in from surrounding towns. I know some Indians were travelling from other towns as back up for us.

“A lot of time rumours made things worse.

“Someone said the guy who got beat up was in a real bad state and this made things bad.”

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Cllr Salim Sidat was in his 20s at the time. He said: “A lot of people were frightened. There was a lot of anger there from people in the Indian community with regards to the stuff that was going on at the premises.

“A lot of people resented it and stoked a lot of fires.

“I think it was a scary time and meetings were held on both parties. It was not good times at all.

“It took a lot of hard work to get people get people back to get together again.”

Some people were quick to dispel the Indian-Pakistani feature of the riots saying it was more to do with a community who just happened to be living in one section who had become ‘fed-up’ at being pushed around. 

They then decided to take the law into their own hands but they had no idea what would follow.

There were accusations that 'criminal elements and thuggery' had been the overriding factors in the the disturbances.

Asif, 50 remembers being stopped by the police trying to make his way through Whalley Range, “To make out that it was huge riot – it was not as intense as others. A few windows got smashed and cars got attacked and after two nights it was all over.

“There was still so much ignorance from the wider press at the time. One major TV network made out this was a battle between Pakistanis and Hindus. 

“I think there had been a lot of resentment from some people who just happened to be from the Indian community of being pushed around and they just let rip. There was this feeling that the Indians were far less timid than the Pakistanis when it came to these things.

“I don’t think people on both sides cared too much what happened to the café. 

“A few days later things were pretty normal and people got back to business.”

Immi, 18, was leaving his house in the morning and was faced with several police officers who shouted at him to get back into his house.

“I had seen what had happened the night before.

“People say the police were not responsible but I think they made the situation worse with the way they spoke and conducted themselves towards Asians. Sometimes people were rounded up for just being in the wrong place.

“I was treated like a criminal and I had not been involved with anything.

“They squared up to me as if to accuse me of having been involved with the rioting of the night before.”

During the week, six people appeared in court charged with casuinhg violent disorder.  All six were refused bail and remanded in custody until July 31. But by that time things had already claimed down.

Pleas for calm go unheard at first

The police, as was the case, in these things, turned to ‘community leaders’ for some help. But they themselves were facing questions from young people they could not answer.

Speaking at the time, the then council leader Gail Barton said: “I would hope that an isolated incident like this would not damage the area. I am convinced the incidents on Wednesday night will not cause any setbacks to the town.

“Generally, we have good relations between communities in Blackburn and the police have played a major part in building confidence between them.

“As a council we will do all we can to support the police and the community in their attempts to calm the3 situation and the bring the area back to normality.”

Former Blackburn MP Jack Straw had rushed up from London on hearing about the fighting.

He said: “The disturbance were confined to the Asian community itself.

“I headed to Brookhouse first to speak to as many people as I could and then I went the police station which was based close the library at the time.

“It was very worrying at the time and it could have damaged the reputation of the town. However. things did seem to die down quite quickly however.

“I do feel that people may were sensible enough to sort things out. They may not have been sensible at first but they were after the events had happened.”

Ex-council leader Mohammed Khan was one of those who attended an emergency meeting with police and local councillors.

It was only two months after he had been elected a councillor for the first time.

He said: “I had only just become a councillor so to be faced with this so early on was a little shocking.

“I remember the whole week being a distressing time for everyone. The whole Indian-Pakistani mentality was being stirred up.

“It was unusual even for the time that the violence was communities fighting against one another and not due to racism like it was in other times.

“We think of it now and how things have developed there would be no issues between communities regarding marriages between Indians and Pakistanis.

“Cars were burned and some of the inner-city streets were no-go zones.

“Eventually, I remember attending a meeting with Rafique Malik, Lord Adam Patel and the police and we managed to get together to sort out the differences between families.”

Mr Khan said for a number of days Blackburn was international news, “There were news teams here from Europe. It was world news.

“Now things have changed so much. 

“Looking at other race riots that have happened since then most notably 2001, Blackburn escaped from those issues. It is mainly due to strong partnerships that tensions did not heighten.

“This despite there being right-wing elements who were looking to stir up trouble.”

'A strange week all round'

The riots came during a period when things were about to change for Blackburn and in particular the football team.

On Randal Street, in an area directly affected by the fighting, a blue plaque commemorates the birthplace of one Jack Walker, whose decisions would have a profound effect on the town and its people in a different way.

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One football fan, Ifti, who was 21 at the times said: “It was a really strange and weird week. 

“Everything was going on and Blackburn was the centre of the news for all sorts of reasons.

“One week we were rioting on the streets and the next moment Alan Shearer finally signed for Rovers from Southampton for a British record fee.

“On the one side there was this pride that Blackburn was on the map for the good reasons and then we were in news for petrol bombing our neighbours.

“I do think when Alan Shearer signed everybody forgot about the Asians and the riot.”